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Accessibility group Segala’s recently-launched partner programme has been adopted by a number of agencies in recent weeks, which can now award ‘trustmarks’ to accessible websites.

The idea of trustmarks is a simple enough. If your website is accessible you can display a trustmark. If it fails in some way users can report the website via the trustmark.

Trustmarks should help raise accessibility standards, and Segala, in the absence of any industry body, has taken it upon itself to offer a trustmark and certification scheme.

The partner programme launched by the company is a way of extending this to other accessibility, usability and digital agencies. The agencies in turn can provide trustmarks for their clients. 

There are a number of issues related to accessibility. As I see it, these are as follows:

1. Lack of technical standards.
While there are recommended guidelines issued by the W3C these can often be interpreted in any number of ways. Stephen Malkmus once sang: "There are forty different shades of black". If he’d said ‘grey’ I’d have assumed he was referring to accessibility guidelines...

2. Lack of legal precedent.
I know that companies in the UK have been prosecuted but since there was no naming (and thus shaming) involved website owners aren't exactly suffering from sleepless nights. Brushing this sort of thing under the carpet has to some degree neutered the threat of prosecution. A silent fine is exactly that. No real harm done.

3. Lack of understanding about the business case #1.
There really is a significant business case, when it comes to investing in an accessible website. Tesco, which famously launched an accessible ‘sister’ site called Tesco Access back in 2001, recouped its investment in next to no time. It went on to generate tens of millions of pounds of revenue through Tesco Access.

4. Lack of understanding about the business case #2.
If search engines are important to you then here’s a word to the wise: an accessible website is a site that’s accessible to all, including the disabled, and also - stakeholders - Googlebot. Think about it. Think about Flash websites, which Googlebot struggles to index. Flash sites as a rule are inaccessible.

This last point, about search engines, is particularly valid, since we believe that accessibility will become increasingly important to search rankings in the future. Trustmarks have been identified as one possible way in which a search engine can determine that a site meets certain standards.

So can trustmarks work? Are they infallible?

Segala’s scheme uses a combination of automation and human verification, to ensure that websites are accessible. Nine different automated tools are used in the Segala process, and human verfication checks a minimum of 15 key accessibility factors.

The problems of a purely automated approach are well-documented, but even the input of humans (for example, to determine whether ALT tags are valid descriptions) has been an issue in some quarters.

Since accessibility is largely about catering to people with physical disadvantages, the likes of the RNIB believe that people suffering from disabilities need to be actively involved in determining whether or not a website is actually accessible, rather than one that just ticks all the right boxes.

Prior to leaving the RNIB last month, digital policy development manager Julie Howell talked to us about this new scheme.

“RNIB welcomes any initiative that improves the lives of blind and partially sighted people. It is well documented that disabled people are missing out on the benefits of the internet revolution due to the way that some websites have been designed.

“However, RNIB has grave concerns about any certification scheme that appears to suggest that accessibility can be achieved without direct involvement of disabled people.”

Research published in 2004 by the Disability Rights Commission showed that usability testing involving disabled people is crucial to developing an accessible, usable website.  

That guidance claimed that automated testing fails to uncover 45% of the problems experience by disabled people.

Yet what we don’t know is whether non-disabled people can help test a site to spot all of the remaining problems, or whether you actually need to suffer from a disability to uncover these issues. The RNIB maintains that “disabled people should be involved in usability testing at every stage of the design lifecycle”.

However, a blind man won’t be able to help determine whether an ALT tag is accurately labelled, for example, so you will need help from the non-disabled too.

To sum up: automated testing will uncover 55% of the issues, then you can recruit human testers (disabled and non-disabled are needed, ideally) to aim towards a 100% accessible website.

So where are we at, in 2006, with regards to accessibility adoption?

The truth is, it is hard to say, but it doesn’t look too good. A survey published by Nomensa showed many major UK retailers have yet to meet minimum accessibility standards on their sites (Nomensa used the W3C guidelines as the basis for its survey).

The IMRG’s James Roper reacted to the survey by telling the BBC that etailers were taking their "accessibility responsibilities very seriously" but said that the current requirements were "both premature and overambitious".

Perhaps this trustmark scheme is needed to increase the amount of accessible websites out there? But can Segala wear two hats?

“There is a case to be said for a company like Segala to become the standards certification authority," said Segala's Andrew Gerrard, "but at the moment we’re independent. We’re a commercial organisation.”

Nevertheless, Segala has already signed up a number of agencies as partners for the trustmark scheme, including the likes of Modem Media, Corporate Edge, Suburb, Steel, Isle Interactive and User Vision. It looks as if these agencies will help provide a shot in the arm to accessibility evangelists.

So rather than the threat of lawsuits forcing website owners to take action, it could be that accessibility is pushed forward by industry cooperation, for the greater good.

Chris Lake

Published 30 October, 2006 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

Dermot O'Mahony

Dermot O'Mahony, Global Enterprise Solutions Manager at Dell

I, for one, think that Trustmarks are an answer and have lobbied for some kind of regulation like this within our industry. It is necessary to the internet being seen as 'grown-up' and taken seriously. The mobile phone industry has taken it upon themselves to provide self-regulation so as not to have it thrust upon them... we should be looking to do the same, before it is thrust upon us by even more people who don't understand the internet/interactive media.

All a trustmark is doing is telling you that your developer can be trusted as an expert. These agencies, and anyone else taking up the segala trustmark, will be researching, discussing and debating the topic amongst themselves and with the likes of Segala, the RNIB, clients, disabled users and so on... they will all be experts, they will all be trusted and they will all deliver accessible websites for their clients by whichever means.

Let me address your issues 1 by 1...

1. Lack of Technical standards - no... not at all. The interpretations can vary for the simple reason that writing any kind of code is not a precise science and the end result can be achieved via a variety of means... any of which can be accessible. With PAS 78 this year, the focus was more on delivering an accessible site and not the technical do's and don'ts. The DRC, the RNIB etc. do not want to sue you (which is why we have seen no legal precendent in the UK) they want to encourage and enable you to make sites accessible so that those they represent are included. The point of getting a "Trusted" developer to build it is that THEY are the expert and THEY will advise on your accessiblity and deliver an accessible website. Let's not focus on the WCAG guidelines as they are not absolute and they are purely a means to the end. We need to focus on the end. The guidelines provide a great starting point for any developer and cover all the points... but you can be flexible and still be accessible (That's why they are guidelines and not rules!).

2. Lack of Legal precedent - we don't need one if we focus on the business cases in favour of accessibility... To quote the blog, "There really is a significant business case, when it comes to investing in an accessible website." Let's focus on the carrot and not the stick because the carrot is bigger than the stick!

3. Lack of Understanding of the business case #1 - we need to focus on the business case instead of the legal element... I quote David Rhys Wilton of Legal & General about their accessible website: “Being a financial institute, we don’t do things because we should; we do them because they make good commercial sense” ... this is what it boils down to and what we should be promoting... Accessibility makes good business sense! L&G's website has increased their web-based sales exponentially! Tesco have seen the same. IBM's accessible intranet has saved them a fortune in bandwidth costs... the business cases are mounting up. Virgin Travel have seen huge increases in revenues from their accessible site.

I applaud Segala for getting this off the ground and the agencies who are signing up for it... instead of sowing the seeds of further doubt and confusion, they are doing it! They are taking us as an industry forward! It's better to see things moving and movements gaining momentum. Now that it's happening we can see any pratical issues that arise and deal with them...improving the process as we go. If all we do is stand around and question things, creating more confusion, we will never see those practical issues and we'll never be able to improve on them.

4. Lack of Understanding of the business case #2 - Nothing more to say on that one...you're right... an accessible website is so search engine friendly that Google will probably want to invite it round for dinner, as someone once said.
You went on to say "Trustmarks have been identified as one possible way in which a search engine can determine that a site meets certain standards." think of the potential here... this isn't just about accessible websites now; this is about child protection, this is about search engine spamming and the whole web experience! This is about turning the noise down so users can access what matters to them (and it is all about them after all, isn't it!?)

On a final point about Segala, you said, "Perhaps this trustmark scheme is needed to increase the amount of accessible websites out there? But can Segala wear two hats?" This has confused me somewhat... which 2 hats? Segala are a commercial business that consults to and accredits companies for the accessible websites. They are not claiming to be an industry body... Think about Verisign or GeoTrust oir Barclays Merchant Services. These are profit making businesses which simply add the element of trust to a website where you see their logo disaplyed. You trust the site to handle your credit card details... it's just about trust... The Segala trust mark gives site owners and disabled users that element of trust and confidence. They are not dictating accessibility...they are testing for it, just as they have been testing for mobile standards for a long, long time now, without being seen or though of as an industry regulator. They just bring the trust to th table which will then help us all in our bid to move the internet forward.

about 10 years ago

Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh, CEO at Segala

I have inserted my comments below each point that I feel needs to be addressed. I feel that this article has missed the opportunity to talk about the benefits of the programme to partners and the reasons it will ‘help’ move the industry forward in a positive way. I feel a more balanced article would have been written had the author interviewed some of Segala’s partners to find out what they think.

Before I proceed I would like to explain the Segala Trustmark so my points below make sense (I hope).

1. A Partner certifies a Web site for accessibility compliance.

2. Client is given a Trustmark to place on the site. A trustmark is a visual logo that’s positioned on the bottom of a Web page. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and you’ll notice that Segala has certified E-Consultancy.com

3. The Trustmark is hyperlinked to a Certificate. By clicking on the Trustmark, you get a Web page that contains detailed information about the certified site; date awarded, conformance claims, who verified the claims and so on.

4. At the time of certification, Segala creates and stores a Content Label on the Segala server. A Content Label is a file that contains the same information as the visual certificate but in (machine-readable) metadata format. This is invisible to end users.

5. The metadata contained in the Content Label is what enables search engines and browsers to identify accessible sites to potentially change the ranking order.

Content Labelling is now being proposed by the W3C as a replacement of the old outdated PICS method used by MSIE for filtering content. PICS is an old w3c recommendation and isn’t based on metadata
Conformance to the W3C Mobile Web Initiative mobileOK best practices will be in the form of a Content Label. Segala, Google and ICRA are co-editors of this document.

-----------

[e-consultancy]
“Lack of technical standards.”

[Segala]
This is not entirely true. This type of statement adds to the confusion already faced by the industry.

This type of statement does one thing – it provides companies with an excuse not to adopt accessibility. Some of the guidelines are only open to interpretation when implemented in very specific ways using specific technologies. ‘Experienced’ professionals don’t have an issue with the Guidelines for 95% of the time.

Ask any person with a disability whether the WCAG area an improvement – they are technical standards produced by the w3c which is also responsible for creating standards such as HTML, CSS, XML and much more. It’s directed by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web and its members is made up of companies, government and academia from all over the world. It’s not perfect, but what standards are?!

------------

[e-consultancy]
“Lack of understanding about the business case #2.”

[Segala]
Flash sites as a rule are not inaccessible if they’re created properly. Agency Republic is one of Segala’s certified partners. It is one of the best agencies in the business for *creative* accessible flash development, normally used for small customer acquisition micro sites. According to Adam Johnston, Technical Director, the learning process was accelerated with Segala’s ongoing support. So, even if this was the only benefit gained by partners, then that can only be a good thing for the industry.

Flash as a technology isn’t particularly great or user friendly. Good flash developers who adopt best practices are rare and the technology itself isn’t particularly standards friendly for most implementations. However, used in the right way and for the right reasons, flash can be accessible.

-----------

[e-consultancy]
“So can trustmarks work? Are they infallible?
The problems of a purely automated approach are well-documented, but even the input of humans (for example, to determine whether ALT tags are valid descriptions) has been an issue in some quarters.”

[Segala]
This section is mixed up and incorrect and shows a lack of understanding on this issue. Using in-experienced humans to verify the accuracy of ALT tags is an issue – using humans who understand the concepts of alt tags is not.

Segala uses a combination of automated test and human-verification. Automated tests are used where they will produce a significantly better result than human verification, e.g. in the case of color contrast testing – how could you not use machine-testing to test this? One of Segala’s compliance managers is colour blind, and even he would need to use a tool to test for this. Then you have testing for HTML validity, you couldn’t possibly test this without a tool.

Segala also uses at least 3 testers to verify each audit to ensure a company overview is always given. Human verification is essential but in some cases so is machine-testing.

-----------

[e-consultancy]
“Since accessibility is largely about catering to people with physical disadvantages, the likes of the RNIB believe that people suffering from disabilities need to be actively involved in determining whether or not a website is actually accessible, rather than one that just ticks all the right boxes.”

[Segala]
To say “suffer” from a disability is politically incorrect.

For the record, Segala employs staff with disabilities. Accessibility is for everyone – if you were to truly test for people with disabilities you would have to include people with mobility impairment, people with variant degrees of colour-blindness, people with cognitive disabilities, people with hearing impairment, etc. – not just people with visual impairments. The cost of employing user testing for all disabilities as well as technical standards compliance would be cost and time prohibitive.

The new WCAG guidelines set out “Success Criteria” in order to enable everyone to validate for accessibility without the need to consult people with disabilities.

-----------

[e-consultancy]
“However, RNIB has grave concerns about any certification scheme that appears to suggest that accessibility can be achieved without direct involvement of disabled people.”

[Segala]
I would like to question the accuracy of this quote. Did Julie really say this?

-----------

[e-consultancy]
“Yet what we don’t know is whether non-disabled people can help test a site to spot all of the remaining problems, or whether you actually need to suffer from a disability to uncover these issues.”

[Segala]
This is completely wrong. You don’t have to be disabled to validate the compliance of a Web site for accessibility. In fact, it’s impossible to validate a site by only employing disabled users unless they are also expert testers.

Testing and standards compliance validation are specialist skills. It is recommended that you employ disabled users to ‘help’ capture ‘user specific’ tests that may not be picked up by structured testers. The very same principle is true for Beta testing and every other type of testing.

In summary, user testing and technical testing are completely different. Adopting both n a cost effective manner is highly recommended.

-----------

[e-consultancy]
“To sum up: automated testing will uncover 55% of the issues,”

[Segala]
This isn’t accurate. I don’t have to hand the exact numbers but it is certain that the vast majority of checkpoints require a human to interpret test results given by tools. What information are you basing this statement on? Segala will publish precisely which guidelines can be fully tested using a tool, which guidelines can be tested using a tool but require a person to interpret the results and which guidelines can not be tested at all, using a tool.

-----------

[e-consultancy]
“Perhaps this trustmark scheme is needed to increase the amount of accessible websites out there? But can Segala wear two hats?”

[Segala]
What are the 2 hats? I’ve already informed E-consultancy before this article was published, that Segala is a profit making organisation with an independent perspective.

E-consultancy provides an independent perspective but is still a profit making company. It is not a standards body, or association. Nor does it claim to be.

-----------

[e-consultancy]
“There is a case to be said for a company like Segala to become the standards certification authority," said Segala's Andrew Gerrard, "but at the moment we’re independent. We’re a commercial organisation.”

[Segala]
This is a misquote and misleading. Segala positions itself as the industry authority in accessibility standards compliance – just like VeriSign positions itself as the industry authority in security certificates.

Why Trust Segala?
Read what our partners think http://segala.com/partner/testimonials.htm

New members are signing up to the programme every week from around the world. This will help drive the adoption of the Segala Trustmark and Content Label as the defacto way of identifying accessible Web sites. Some will trust it and some won’t 

about 10 years ago

Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh, CEO at Segala

I'd just like to add that my previous post was very structured and 'matter of fact' for the sake of the record.

As a company, we are flexible, friendly and supportive. We also understand and appreciate that building trust comes with time - which is why we have been building processes and technology over the past 2 years.

Segala doesn't claim to have a full proof solution, but in our humble opinion, it's as full proof as it's technically possible given the technology we have at our disposal. With help from our friends at Glaxstar, we will include functionality in a browser that allows users to rate the trustworthiness of trustmarks - but first things first.

:-)

about 10 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Glad to see that Accessibility continues to elicit such passion!

We thought we’d get a lot of complaints from the industry about being seen to support Segala. Instead we get Segala, our certification partner, as the ones keenest to ‘address’ our article. Hey ho…

In the spirit of continuing the debate in an open arena, let me throw my thoughts into the debate.

Firstly, I agree completely with everything that Dermot says. So that’s easy.

Secondly, just to counter a few comments that Paul has made to uphold our own journalistic integrity:

- Yes, Julie really did say “However, RNIB has grave concerns about any certification scheme that appears to suggest that accessibility can be achieved without direct involvement of disabled people.” We have this in writing from her. I suggest you take this up with her directly. Though, of course, she’s no longer at the RNIB…
- Our quote of Andrew Gerrard may not have been the best one to select but it is not a misquote. We have that too on an MP3 audio file.

On re-reading Chris’ original article I believe it is fair and balanced and factually correct. I think there are a few grey areas there which are open to (mis)interpretation or debate. Particularly the following which I’d like to take up:

### “1. Lack of technical standards” ###
I think there actually plenty of technical standards. But I’m not sure it is clear, to a site owner, whose interpretation of those standards to trust. There is Segala’s accreditation but there are many others. Not least the RNIB’s See It Right scheme which Standard Life are supporting.

Of course, each scheme is entitled to argue why it is the best one, but until there is any agreed ‘gold standard’ or defacto industry norm then surely this will remain confusing to clients and agencies? Who should they go with? Who is there to help them judge impartially who’s best to go with?

It seems also that there is a difference of opinion (or lack of clarity) between the RNIB and Segala about whether disabled people MUST be involved in an accreditation process or not? If there is such a lack of clarity then little wonder we are left confused. If there isn’t such a disagreement, then I’ve clearly misunderstood something i.e. I’m confused.

### The infamous “2 hats” ###
Dermot and Paul challenged Chris’ ‘2 hats’. I’d like to propose a few more hats that I believe are at play here. 5 hats!

Let’s take the web analytics industry as a reasonable parallel:

Hat 1 – the people who set the standards. For web analytics in the UK this would be JICWEBS. For Accessibility I’d assume it was the W3C?

Hat 2 – the people who audit to the standards. For web analytics ABCe is dominant. Usually you’d expect these bodies to be not-for-profit and / or industry-owned (like BARB, RAJAR etc.). For Accessibility there isn’t a clear winner here?

Hat 3 – the industry trade body (usually not-for-profit and industry-owned also) which helps sets the agenda, debate the issues, run events and training etc. For web analytics in the UK this is a little cloudy (most obviously it is the Web Analytics Association but E-consultancy and the IAB also play a role along with ABCe again).

Hat 4 – the agencies and consultancies who actually do the work / sell their expertise. There are loads of these for web analytics (though very few dedicated solely to analytics as it happens) and, indeed, accessibility.

Hat 5 – the clients or site owners themselves. Plenty of those.

I’m not sure if this Hat Hierarchy helps? So which of these hats does Segala where?

As far as I’m aware only Hats 2 and 4.

The possible issue here, and the ‘2 hats’ challenge I’d understood, is whether Segala could audit their own work (possible, but ethical?); some accessibility agencies I’ve talked to are a little confused as to why they would want Segala to audit their work when Segala also provide competing consultancy/implementation services?

Ashley Friedlein
CEO
E-consultancy.com

about 10 years ago

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Dial

There is certainly a lot to learn about this subject.
I like all of the points you have made.

over 4 years ago

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